As declared, I'm a proponent of the teaching of mathematics and science in the English language in the schools. What I'm upset about is with the (almost) typical ineffectiveness and incompetency demonstrated with the implementation of the policy. One of the aspects of this ineffectiveness and incompetency is in the English policy disjoint between the primary and secondary schools, versus that of the public institutions of higher learning in Malaysia.
Thanks to a blog post by Cik Amoi, I was alerted to a Sunday Star education story which was entitled "Still struggling with English" on October 23rd.
The story highlighted the fact that students in public varsities are in a dilemma as science-based courses are still being taught in Bahasa Malaysia (BM) and some academics are also finding it difficult to switch to English.
With science-based courses still being taught in Bahasa Malaysia (BM) first year public varsity students find themselves in a quandary. Some lecturers switch mediums of instruction at their whims and fancy, and students feel that more needs to be done to ensure uniform implementation of the Government’s policy of teaching mathematics and science-based subjects in English.These criticism are not just coming from the students and the media. They are actually coming from some ministry officials as well. I couldn't agree more when one official was quoted saying that “[i]t is a disappointing scenario. So much money has been spent on introducing technology and training teachers in schools but so little has been done to improve the quality of lecturers."
Lecturers seem to be having more trouble coping with the switch in medium of instruction, compared to the students who studied the subjects in English.
...a first-year manufacturing engineering student from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) admits that she was not surprised when she was asked to submit her assignments in BM.
And this is despite a stern warning issued by the Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Dr Shafie Mohd Salleh "that the teaching of mathematics and science-based subjects should be conducted in English from September."
A former lecturer disclosed that many lecturers possesses not the right attitudes to be an academic, but that of the lazy civil servant:
“Some lecturers just have closed minds and are not keen to learn anything new. They are so set in their ways that they do not know how, and do not wish to find out how, they can do things otherwise.”Malaysia Academic Movement president Assoc Prof Dr Wan Abdul Manan Wan Muda rationalised that it is "near impossible task" to expect universities to make an overnight switch from BM to English because the lecturers’ different levels of proficiency in English. I find that a poor excuse, although he did add that "there is no excuse for any lecturer not to know and be able to use English."
Apparently, another interesting excuse for the use of BM, particularly in the submission of lab reports was to "prevent plagiarism". After all, there aren't going to be many BM websites with lab reports to copy from. Hmmm....
Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) has even invested over RM1mil to train lecturers to teach in English as long as 3 years ago.
While it's great that the universities are taking some form of action to improve the language skills of these lecturers (some of which are more effective than others), I seriously wonder what type of science and mathematics lecturers do we have teaching our undergraduates at the public universities? How is it that these lecturers who probably have at least a Masters degree and pursuing their doctorates, are not at least minimally "competent" in the English language?
Many of the "lecturers" obtained their science and mathematics degrees from foreign universities in the United Kingdom and the United States, and in all likelihood, uses English textbooks - why is it that they are not able to convey their knowledge and teachings in English? The fact that we have to spend extra funds to "train" these "lecturers" to speak competent English demonstrates the poverty of our academics in the country.
If the government is serious with regards to objectives of the English language policy - in particular, to improve students ability to research scientific materials in English, then it is important that the ability to teach and converse proficiently in English is set as a determining criteria in the recruitment and promotion of lecturers.
Practically all scientific and mathematical textbooks used in the universities are published in the English language. If these lecturers are not competent in the language, I cannot imagine what is it that they have been teaching our students. It is hence unsurprising that given such poor command of the language of science and mathematics, the ability of these academics to conduct in depth research is seriously hampered, justifying the poor rankings achieved at the world university ranking tables.